A Pennsylvania high school student is suing the Central York school district in Pennsylvania for his suspension for a Facebook post he wrote on his personal computer. The student, identified as R.L. in the lawsuit, alleges that school officials used “unconstitutionally vague rules as a basis for discipline” and exceeded their authority by punishing him for conduct that occurred out of school.
The student was suspended when, following a bomb threat, the high school was evacuated and the students sent home. When R.L. got home, he published a post on his Facebook page which read, “Plot twist. Bomb not found. Goes off tomorrow.” Although the police concluded that R.L. was not a suspect for the bomb threat, school officials suspended him for ten days, followed by an expulsion of an additional thirteen days.
The lawsuit alleges that the provisions of the student handbook under which R.L. was disciplined are unconstitutionally overbroad and vague on their face as applied in this case as they fail to distinguish out-of-school speech from in-school student expression, and is not limited to student speech that causes a substantial disruption to the school day. The student’s family seeks the expunging of the discipline from the student’s records, a revision of the school discipline policies, and attorney’s fees.
Given the broad discretion that courts have traditionally allowed school districts when it involves issues of student safety and school security, it will be interesting to see if this lawsuit can overcome this trend.